PlayPenn is offering a way for playwrights to produce new work during a pandemic

John Flak

The current pandemic has hit every industry hard, that is abundantly clear. But for theaters, the hit certainly has been damageable both on the sales side and on a more artistic level. Although a few local organizations have still been able to produce content virtually and have started selling memberships and tickets for next season, the financial blow has been significant enough to call for more help. That’s where PlayPenn comes in.

According to a release, PlayPenn, Philadelphia’s new play development organization, is re-thinking what it means to gather and support artists during the COVID-19 crisis. Their acclaimed New Play Development Conference, scheduled for late-July, will now be moved into a virtual format, offering artists the ability to nurture and develop new works during this time of social distancing. Additionally, their popular reading series of plays in development will be moved to a digital platform and be presented as a benefit for Theatre Philadelphia’s Emergency Relief Program. Audience members will be able to support Philadelphia’s vast theatre community by taking part in the readings.

John Flak

The readings will take place starting July 20.

The conference features plays written by a total of 8 playwrights, 6 of which are Haas Fellows, with all of the shows being developed in online workshops. In total, the conference is employing approximately 80 regional artists and actors in addition to the entire PlayPenn staff, making the occasion not only artistically satisfying but also financially beneficial for those participating during these uncertain times.

PlayPenn teamed up with Theatre Philadelphia to make this special event happen, and being an organization that celebrates the city’s diverse theater community and culture, it only makes sense for TP to be at the forefront of the conference offering online benefit readings of the new plays in development. Proceeds from the Conference will benefit Theatre Philadelphia’s Emergency Relief Program, which awards micro-grants of $300 to individuals who live in the Philadelphia region, work in theatre, and whose theatre income has been impacted by COVID-19.

“This natural partnership with one of the nation’s most renowned play development programs is an excellent way to showcase one of Philadelphia’s greatest cultural strengths,“ said Theatre Philadelphia board president Jason Lindner in a statement. “That is, Philly’s substantial commitment to the development of new and burgeoning theatre artists. The ability to utilize the prestige of PlayPenn as a resource toward helping the theatre community as a whole is truly a remarkable gift.”

PlayPenn Artistic Director Paul Meshejian adds, “We feel such a great responsibility to every member of the Philadelphia theater community and can’t think of a better way, at this challenging moment, to make our support become concrete. None of us are whole without the depth and breadth of this remarkable community of theater workers.”

John Flak

The first play up on the digital reading slate will be Dominic Finocchiaro’s ‘how it feels to fall from the sky.’ Finocchiaro has penned a variety of full-length shows including ‘angel’s share’, ‘brother brother’, ‘brut’ and ‘complex’, and has had his work produced and developed around the country. Finocchiaro’s latest show follows five strangers living in New York who form an unlikely group bond when they go through the trauma of watching a woman plunge to her death. The release describes the show as a melancholic dramedy about loneliness, loss and the unending possibility of salvation inside human connection. The digital reading of ‘how it feels to fall from the sky’ will take place Sunday, July 26, at 2 p.m.

Another highlight is Tammy Ryan’s ‘Take My Hand And Wave Goodbye.’ Ryan’s works have also been performed around the country and internationally as well including at The Alliance Theater, Florida Stage, Marin Theater, People’s Light and Theater Company, Portland Stage Company, Premiere Stages, Pittsburgh Playhouse and the Repertory Theater of St. Louis among others. ‘Take My Hand And Wave Goodbye’ follows 15-year-old Cassie who begins to dream her aunt back into existence after being shot down in a random act of gun violence in Pittsburgh. In the months following her death, each family member is confronted with the question: “If they had done just one thing differently, would there have been a different outcome?” The show is said to be told with humor and heart and the virtual reading will take place Saturday, July 25, at 8 p.m.

‘Flor Underwater’ from Lori Felipe-Barkin will also be developed during PlayPenn’s Conference. Felipe-Barkin happens to be a member of The Foundry, the three-year residency program for emerging Philadelphia playwrights and her latest show will follow Flor and her children who live in Florida and are looking to claim their stakes in a world full of “rednecks, Cubans, Miccosukee Indians, and Mar O Lagans.” The release states that the show is inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’, and is intended to be performed in slow rising water. The virtual reading of ‘Flor Underwater’ will take place Monday, July 20, at 7 p.m.

John Flak

A full list of shows and playwrights are listed online, and those interested in registering for the online reading of plays will be able to do so via playpenn.org (Philadelphians can check this site for all updates and viewing links.) After registering, audience members will receive a link to a digital streaming platform where they will be able to watch the online readings. Unlike previous years of the conference however, the readings will only occur once.

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